Space Dogs (2019)

Space Dogs
Director: Elsa Kremser, Levin Peter
Writer: Elsa Kremser, Levin Peter
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 27.10.2019

Content Note: animal abuse and death

Street dogs are roaming the streets of Moscow, always looking for a bite to eat somewhere. Laika, the first dog who went to space, in fact, one of the first living beings from earth to go, period, was also a street dog. For her to be able to go, experiments had to be carried out, on more dogs. The documentary takes a look at the relationship between Moscow and its dogs.

Space Dogs is a documentary in two interlocking parts, both of which felt very different to me, I have to say. Though I found both very interesting and well done, the part about the street dogs in Moscow today is the one that resonated more with me. In any case, the film is excellent, but also not always easy to take.

The film poster showing the image of a dog, made to look like a dog-shaped galaxy in front of a star-filled universe.

Space Dogs mostly follows one dog who has a loose pack but can often be seen on his own. As he runs through the city, the camera stays on his level and with his perspective, giving us a very different look at the city than we normally get. He is an engaging protagonist and the film makes sure that we see that he isn’t a pet, he is a wild animal: in an upsetting scene, we watch him kill a cat.

But the film shows that these dogs are also prey – prey for the people of Moscow. At the end of the film, we see a litter of puppies in a greener area of the city or at its edge poisoned. It’s harrowing. And it’s that part of being prey to humans that ties the dogs today most together with the street dogs in the 50s and 60s who were captured for the space program.

Two dogs, one sitting in an emptied car wreck, the other lying in front of it.

In probably the film’s biggest coup, the filmmakers got access to never before released footage of the experiments done in order to prepare Laika for her space trip. For example, tubes were surgically affixed so the dogs could be put into containers and strapped in without being able to move. It shows with how little regard these dogs were treated even before they were shot into space to die, with no plans for their possible return.

Those images are upsetting, to say the least. But despite the casual cruelties that the film also documents and maybe because I was focused more on the current part of the film, I didn’t leave the film with a bad feeling. I didn’t feel depressed. Somehow there is a more positive element that outweighed all of that – maybe it’s just watching a dog run free in his city.

Two dogs, one growling at the other.

Summarizing: Definitely worth seeing if you can stomach the harsh parts.

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